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Witness to D-Day

"This is Matthew Halton of the CBC." So began Halton's war broadcasts. His reports were at times tender and sad and other times shocking and explosive. Halton was an unabashed sentimentalist who covered the war as a crusade, for which he was sometimes criticized but more often loved. Covering the major milestones of his generation – from the war trenches to the coronation of the Queen, Halton became Canada's most famous foreign correspondent. A thoughtful philosopher and determined idealist, Matthew Halton was an everyman poet who wore his heart boldly on his sleeve.

Swimming with his pack and waterproof typewriter, Matthew Halton navigates the rough, rising tides to the beach. Around him, the Allied troops swim forward and land on the shell-swept Normandy beaches. They move through curtains of machine gun fire. Today is June 6, 1944, and the campaign to liberate France and Belgium from Germany has begun.

Halton takes note of the military barrage, bombing, assault and retreat. He describes the precise order and organization of the attack and the courage of the fallen men. But with deft skill, Halton manages to bridge the dividing line of despair and hope. He tells of French families emerging from their homes with roses and strawberries for the troops. He observes another Normandy woman placing roses on the face of a dead Canadian soldier. This is, he describes, a "splendid and terrible" day.
• Approximately 155,000 Allied troops participated in the D-Day invasion. Three hundred and fifty-nine Canadians were killed and 715 were wounded, listed as missing or taken prisoner.
• The Allied assault on Normandy was successful. The Canadian infantry moved inland and continued to capture enemy positions throughout the months of June and July.

• Matthew Halton and Reuters reporter Charles Lynch also brought a basket of birds with them to the D-Day invasion. Halton and Lynch were hoping to write their reports and send their accounts back across the Channel to London via carrier pigeon. Once released, however, the birds flew inland to Germany. Lynch shook his fist angrily in the air and shouted "Traitors! Damn traitors!" at the fugitive birds.

• Halton met Lynch, a rookie foreign correspondent, just before the D-Day invasion. He took Lynch under his wing and acted as his mentor. During the war, Lynch broadcast a tribute to Halton. "He's a grand person, he's in his late thirties and his home's at Pincher Creek," Lynch described. "He's proud of being an Albertan and having been a cowboy as a kid."

• Other correspondents who covered the war for the CBC included Peter Stursberg, John Kannawin, Bill Herbert, Don Fairbairn, Bert Powley, Marcel Ouimet, Benoit Lafleur and Paul Barrette. Ouimet acted as the senior correspondent for the French Radio-Canada service. He later became vice-president of the CBC.

• The CBC reporters would record their stories, mix them in the field and return to camp The 78 RPMs would be handed over to a dispatch writer who would take them to an airfield and fly them to as high-powered transmitter. The broadcasts would then be beamed to London and then over to Canada, usually the same day.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio News
Broadcast Date: June 8, 1944
Reporter: Matthew Halton
Duration: 13:53
Photo: National Archives of Canada - PA 132651

Last updated: October 21, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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